Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban was drenched in sweat as he sat in his team’s workout room and fired the first mild salvo in the Great Texas Showdown, a.k.a. the Western Conference finals.
“The state of Texas is great. The city of San Antonio is great, but Dallas is a better city no matter what happens,” he said.
Cuban’s comment probably won’t sit well with the Spur faithful when the best-of-seven series begins tonight.
The first Shaq-less and Kobe-free Western Conference finals of the decade is a matchup of 60-win teams that monitored each other’s progress in early April, when the Spurs closed in and eventually caught the Mavericks for the best record in the league.
Their styles, however, are as different as the two cities separated by 275 miles.
“We have more weapons than they have, but their best player can make their average players look great,” was how Dallas’ Nick Van Exel summed it up Sunday.
The Spurs revolve around their franchise player, Tim Duncan, and run their offense based on the way their opponent defends him. If Duncan is double-teamed, the ball gets worked around to one of their outside shooting specialists -- Stephen Jackson and Bruce Bowen -- or one of their penetrators, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili.
If Duncan is left in single coverage, he’ll dip into his vast array of post-up moves.
The Mavericks prefer a helter-skelter style that creates fastbreak points.
And whereas the Spurs are somewhat predictable on offense, the Mavericks are anything but. From Dirk Nowitzki’s face-up game to Steve Nash’s all-direction dribbling to Michael Finley’s all-around offensive talent to Van Exel’s explosiveness off the bench, Dallas and its creative coach, Don Nelson, have innumerable ways to confound an opponent and turn a game into a shootout.
“You’re never prepared for everything with Nelly, never,” said Spur Coach Gregg Popovich, who spent two seasons as Nelson’s assistant at Golden State. “He’ll have a beer tonight and he’ll try to think of some way to confound me and our team because that’s the way he’s built, and he’s the best at it.”
While the Spurs won the NBA championship in 1999 and advanced to the conference finals in 2001, this will be the first appearance for the Mavericks in NBA’s final four since 1988, when they lost to the Lakers in the first Game 7 in franchise history.
The Spurs are the favorites, largely because of Duncan, but the Mavericks are not to be taken lightly.
“We’re very confident with ourselves,” Van Exel said. “We’ve got swagger.”